MEDICAL ALLEY, Minnesota (October 2nd, 2023) – LEAH Labs, a gene editing company building living therapies for pets first, and their people next, has been awarded a highly competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant worth $973,924. The two-year investment from “America’s Seed Fund” will support further development of LEAH Labs’ proprietary, virus-free gene editing technology, GeneWeld, and fund a pilot trial of their lead CAR-T cell therapy asset in pet dogs with B cell lymphoma.
LEAH Labs is pioneering the development of precision gene edited cell therapies for dogs with cancer. 6,000,000 dogs die of cancer every year in the USA, and current strategies in veterinary oncology are generally non-curative, only offering temporary relief and comfort to a pet and their family. In humans, CAR-T cell therapy is often curative, with 6 FDA approvals in hematologic malignancies since 2017, and hundreds of candidates in clinical trials. Because dogs live in the same environment, eat the same foods, and share genetics and physiology with humans, therapeutic strategies that work in dogs often work in humans, and vice versa, in what is deemed the “One Health Model.” LEAH Labs’ is working to develop novel therapies for pets with analogous cancers in humans, and eventually translate a hit from veterinary medicine to human medicine.
“This SBIR funding gives LEAH Labs the opportunity to continue building our world-class virus-free gene editing technology, while getting a lead candidate CAR-T cell therapy into pet patients who desperately need new and innovative solutions.” said Dr. Wesley Wierson, founder and CEO of LEAH Labs, and inventor of GeneWeld. “Our unique emphasis on engineering human T cells for therapy in dogs means that not only do we get to help pets who need us, but that we are developing a full stack research and development platform with direct translation to humans. It’s a win for pets now, and a win for people next.”
Pat Dillon, MBA, Founder and President, MNSBIR, Inc., is a science and technology-based non-profit that has worked with LEAH Labs since their inception. “LEAH Labs is an astounding biotech firm with the technical know-how to conduct high-risk, high-reward research that will discover novel cancer treatments. The NSF is a highly competitive agency that funds groundbreaking technologies with strong commercial potential. LEAH Labs is now part of an elite group of startups and small businesses funded by NSF SBIR Phase II. The long-term economic impact of their technology will drive continued growth in Minnesota’s bioeconomy.” Dillon said.
LEAH Labs was previously awarded a $225,000 NSF SBIR Phase I enabling them to transition their platform gene editing technology, licensed from Iowa State University and Mayo Clinic based on Dr. Wierson’s academic work in zebrafish and human cell lines, to primary human T cells. During Phase I, they also showed that their xenogeneic approach (using human T cells in dogs) was safe in dogs, and developed a novel lymphodepletion regimen for dogs, readying them for pilot trials in sick pets,
“We are grateful to NSF and American taxpayers for funding innovative research like ours that stimulates the economy and pushes the world’s technology forward.” Dr. Wierson said.
About LEAH Labs
LEAH Labs was founded in November of 2018 with initial funding by the notorious seed accelerator Y Combinator. Since inception, LEAH Labs has been positioning their precision gene editing technology, GeneWeld, to be a best-in-class virus-free gene targeting technology capable of reprogramming living cells so they can perform non-native, therapeutic functions. As a first product, LEAH Labs is developing CAR-T cell therapy for B cell lymphoma, the most commonly managed cancer in canine oncology. In addition to their work building and deploying CAR-T cells for pet patients, they are deploying GeneWeld as a platform for high-throughput discovery and validation of novel cell therapy cargos, with the ultimate goal of helping pets and their people live longer lives.
About the NSF’s Small Business Programs
America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $2 million to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $9.5 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. For more information, visit seedfund.nsf.gov.